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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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With six candidates vying to take the place of Senate District 14’s Kirk Watson, it seemed reasonable to assume there would be a runoff, most likely between two popular Democrats: former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez.
On Wednesday morning Eckhardt, the daughter of the late U.S. Rep. Bob Eckhardt, had won 49.66 percent of the vote – just under the 50 percent required to win the race outright. Rodriguez had just under 34 percent, in a district that covers most of Travis County and all of Bastrop County. However, not all of the votes have been counted. Mail-in ballots postmarked on election day will be part of the total if received by 5 p.m. today.
An Eckhardt campaign spokesman released the following statement via email: “We are encouraged by tonight’s results and are anxious to see every vote counted. Whether we win with or without a runoff, I am looking forward to serving the people of Senate District 14.”
In a statement released Wednesday, Rodriguez was confident that there would be a runoff.
“I am deeply appreciative of the support my campaign has received over the past couple months. We couldn’t have come this far without the support of everyone who has made phone calls, chipped in, organized their friends and families, and voted. Now we head into a runoff with the momentum,” it said. “This campaign has never been about me or any of the other candidates, it’s about the people of SD-14 and who can best represent them in the Texas Senate. I believe I have the best experience, vision, and judgement to get us through these crises and to ensure an equitable recovery. I look forward to continuing to share that message on the campaign trail.”
Watson stepped down from the seat this spring to become the founding dean of the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston. The winner of Tuesday’s runoff election, which was postponed because of Covid-19, will serve out the remaining two years of Watson’s term.
Although Rodriguez raised far more money to fund his campaign – more than $700,000 compared to Eckhardt’s $140,000 – the money on its own was insufficient to overcome the positive press Eckhardt got from her leadership during the pandemic.
In addition, Eckhardt has been elected countywide since 2014 and served for eight years before that as a county commissioner. Since just before she resigned to run for the Senate seat, Eckhardt has been the face of Travis County’s response to the pandemic. (Mayor Steve Adler, who stood shoulder to shoulder with Eckhardt on the Covid-19 front, has more recently appeared to carry that burden alone.) Instead of leaving the county altogether, Eckhardt became a special unpaid assistant to County Judge Sam Biscoe to help deal with the public health emergency.
The Rodriguez campaign complained about the free publicity Eckhardt was getting and she did have an advantage over him, especially after stay-at-home orders took effect, eliminating the public rallies and parties that are normally the meat and potatoes of political campaigns.
Former Austin Council Member Don Zimmerman finished third in Travis County with nearly 11 percent of the vote. Zimmerman, a conservative Republican, jumped into the race after losing the Republican primary for House District 47. Rounding out the six-candidate field were independent Jeff Ridgeway, Libertarian Pat Dixon and Republican Waller Thomas Burns II. Each received about 1 percent of the vote.
Tuesday afternoon, Zimmerman was predicting he would not fare very well in the election. He told the Austin Monitor, “We took a look at the early voting totals and were appalled at how bad the Republican turnout was, and it was even worse in Bastrop County, which is more conservative. If the Democrats had no Senate runoff and the Republicans had a Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst runoff I would cruise into second place … but we have nothing in Bastrop County … and the Democrats have that very interesting race with (MJ) Hegar and (Royce) West” for the nomination to run in November against Sen. John Cornyn. “The prognosis is not good, owing to what’s happening at the top. … Combine that with the $1 million the Democrats spent. My budget was north of $10,000 … so I’m not optimistic.”
Zimmerman did take 39 percent of the votes in Bastrop County but with such low turnout, that gave him just 3,414 votes there, compared to Eckhardt’s 2,753, about 31 percent, and Rodriguez’s 1,968 votes, or more than 22 percent.
Photo via Facebook.
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